Costa Rican Community Search for Slave Ships
The new docuseries ‘Enslaved’ features a chapter on Costa Rica. During this episode, through the implementation of scuba diving and community document management , we visit the underwater wreckages of two Danish slave ships that sank somewhere along the South Caribbean Coast on March 2nd, 1710.
Between 2016 and 2020, the Asociación Centro Comunitario de Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar undertook four expeditions in community maritime archaeology in Parque Nacional Cahuita, as well as at the seas of the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Gandoca Manzanillo (REGAMA).
Due to the lack of specialists on the matter in Costa Rica, international experts have helped us carryout local training through a specialized training on community preservation of its heritage.
These expeditions were undertaken sinvce 2016 under the sterardship of the Centro Comunitario de Buceo, with the support of the UCR sede Caribe (University of Costa Rica), and holding all the pertinent permits for diving in the protected areas of Cahuita and Gandoca/Manzanillo.
They were assisted by specialists from the Maritime Program at East Caroline University, archaeologists from the Cleveland Underwater Explorers (CLUE in REGAMA) and, more recently, archaeologists from the National Museum of Denmark and from Diving With a Purpose (DWP),
Since 2016 we have been coordinating with the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. During the first two years of our work, there was no laws protecting the underwater heritage sites that we documented. We promoted a campaign locally with UNESCO in 2017, in order to make Costa Rica ratify the Convention on the ‘Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage’ - which became the Law 9500 in 2018. We are currently helping write the regulations concerning the way in which communities may help in its implementation.
Regarding the topic of Samuel L. Jackson's docudrama Enslaved, this episode is about the search of two Danish slave ships in Cahuita, and it is an important aspect of an international series.
Even though the identity of the ships "El Fredericus IV" and "El Chistianus V" has not been established yet, there are signs at the bottom of the sea in Punta Cahuita, that reinforces the hypothesis that the naval vessels found there could indeed be these ships.
In addition, as a contribution to the narrative of the study, we find it is essential to recover the oral stories of the passengers. There are two books that mention and research this event which are contributing important cultural and historical evidence regarding the incident, which is not acknowledged by the ‘official’ account of the area.
The two Danish slave ships arrived on March 2nd, 1710 somewhere on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, on board were 650 African people that had been forced to leave their countries in Africa to become enslaved in America.
The ships were wrecked near the coast, and the crew liberated the enslaves on the beach, and they then embarked on an English barge that would eventually take them to Portobelo in Panama and some back to europe after a trial.
According to the historical documentation studied, many of the freed slaves went into the jungle, so it is possible they could have met and settled with the Bribri.
For this reason, the episode of Costa Rica includes testimonies of the afro/indigenous in Talamanca.
Others were captured by the Miskito indigenous peoples who were prowling the coast at the time and taken to the English Protectorate in Nicaraguá Atlantic Coast at the time, where they would have been enslaved. This is the reason why we contacted the afro/miskitas from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.
Another group of 101 Africans arrived to Matina, where they were enslaved by settlers in the country. Evidence of many of them can be found in birth, death and marriage certificates from the period. Some also appear in the report of an investigation intending to find and locate these slaves. This investigation was commissioned by the monarchy of Spain and conducted by Diego de la Haya, who was the Governor at the time.
There is also a document, in the National Archives, about a trial carried out decades later on the illicit way some of the slaves could have been acquired by settlers in Costa Rica. Precisely because of that we have been contacting people with the surnames Maroto, Brenes, and others, who we believe could have an afro lineage in their bloodline. One of them is looking into her lineage with the help of an ethnographer who is studying those possible connections.
Another group of 21 Africans embarked with the captains and sailors in Portobelo, where the Europeans were captured and sent back to their place of origin. The Africans were taken away from their original owners, remaining in Panama, probably bought by new owners, as was customary of the time
We know of at least four more trials, one in Portobelo and the rest in Denmark, and for this reason we have contacted an underwater archaeologist in Panama, and we are working in collaboration with archaeologists from the National Museum of Denmark.
The information at the bottom of the sea is vital evidence. Diving at the archaeological sites is key, as most of the traffic of slaves was illicit, and so the supplementary evidence is insufficient.
For this reason the main protagonists of this episode of "Enslaved" are the scuba diving youth of the Centro Comunitario de Buceo. They steward the underwater search, both in regards to the cultural material discovered and within the community itself.
The Centro Comunitario de Buceo Embajadores y Embajadoras del Mar hopes this international docudrama, which prominently features the youth and local residents of the communities of Talamanca, can help to:
Reinforce and deepen the roots that mark, and identify, the indigenous and Afro-descendants from the insufficiently studied cultural and historical traits, and contributions and present day status.
Promote opportunities for the new generation in projects related to these cultures and to recognize the openness that these two groups had when they received many other cultures into the area; everything that makes it the most multicultural place in Costa Rica.
Help close the inequality gap in the Province, and its Canton of Talamanca, which is so rich in cultural, natural and historical resources but so impoverished in opportunities for its people.
Recognize the Community contribution of the Caribbean and its development of community archaeological culture. Plus, its role in the preservation and re-discoveries of events that have been on the bottom of the sea. Whether that is objects or testimonies of the story that were previously lost.